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The Annapolis Valley Chamber of Commerce is trying something new in the name of helping local businesses and charities hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
AVCC’s new Chamber Champion membership program recently put cash in the hands of local business owners negatively impacted by the global pandemic.
“During a pandemic you try to do whatever you can to help,” said AVCC executive director Judy Rafuse.
The program was originally intended to be an elevated membership level offering such perks as free tickets, discounts, sponsorship opportunities, etc.
But Rafuse said AVCC saw a need for something else when COVID-19 started to force businesses to make sudden, and often drastic, unexpected changes.
“When COVID hit we said let’s change this and make it a benevolent fund because we knew that immediately a lot of our small businesses were going to be (hurting).”
Money raised through Chamber Champions membership top-ups is used to purchase gift certificates from businesses in AVCC’s coverage area, which spans from Kings County to Lawrencetown, Annapolis County.
The Chamber Champion program recently made it possible for AVCC to buy $1,000 gift cards from seven local businesses: Callister’s Country Kitchen, Krystina Marie Photography, Hello – Smoothies, Juices, Boutique, The Naked Crepe Bistro Inc, The Farmhouse Inn B&B, H Lawrie Eclectic Art and Bridget Havercroft Photography & Design.
“It was all done randomly,” said Rafuse, who explained that names were drawn out of a hat. “We had a committee that chose the businesses in our membership that we knew had had a rough go.”
The gift certificates were subsequently donated to four local charities that were ready to use them for fundraising activities.
Kentville & District Kinette Club, New Minas Sunrise Rotary, Big Brothers, Big Sisters of the Annapolis Valley and The Salvation Army – Middleton each received donations of $1,750 in gift certificates.
All the recipients of Chamber Champion donations were thrilled to receive an unexpected boost in these trying times, Rafuse said.
“It was really heartwarming to see.”
A statement from Hello – Smoothies, Juices, Boutique owner Angie Dorey on AVCC’s website speaks to how the $1,000 gift card purchase can turn things around for a small business.
“I know for many larger businesses a $1,000 sale is a drop in the bucket, but for us, it honestly meant the world,” she said.
“It came at the most opportune time as Berwick was hit hard just before Christmas with some positive cases and a lot of business was driven out of town. Your support literally carried me through the holidays.”
The Kentville & District Kinette Club plans to hold a raffle to use the donated gift certificates to raise some cash for the non-profit organization.
“This has been a very challenging year due to the pandemic and we had to cancel our club’s two largest fundraisers,” reads a statement attributed to the club on the AVCC website.
“The funds in our club’s bank account are quickly dwindling and we are unable to support as many charities and local people in need as we usually would.”
The chamber’s membership has made it possible for AVCC to serve as a constant source of support for Annapolis Valley businesses in changing times.
“We have great members and they have stepped up and paid their dues,” said Rafuse.
Businesses from throughout the region continue to be adversely impacted by the necessary cancellations of community events that would typically draw large crowds. Rafuse said AVCC has noticed that the tourism and hospitality sector, as well as entertainment venues, have been particularly hard hit by the restrictions in place to quell the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
She said businesses that have found a way to redefine what they do, or move to an online platform, have experienced some success throughout the pandemic.
“We’ve heard the good and the bad.”
She said building consumer confidence is key as the realities faced by the business community continue to shift with the times.
“Shop local,” she said, when asked how Annapolis Valley residents can struggling businesses make it through the pandemic.
“Spend your money here.”